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Memoirs of a would-be reformer of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao
Atty. Algamar A. Latiph
A long journey that started with texts messages “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is an ancient Chinese proverb. Mine is different. My journey towards reforming the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao cannot be quantified by distance, thus, it cannot start with a step. Two text messages started my journey. I know the destination of the journey but I did not know exactly where it will end. I do not know at the beginning that it is me who will put a dot and find the dead-end of the journey. I thought that the journey was linear but a crossroad appeared along the way that I was not expecting, I have to make a choice and I choose to turn right, end the journey, prematurely.
*** It was the last day of filing a pleading, and pressure to post it before the closing office hours mounted, and by the minute. Though the air-conditioned emitted cold air, there was wetness on my shirt. The usual lawyers stuff, and the usual life of lawyers—deadline! An hour ago, my cellphone beeped several times, I didn’t open the messages; the busyness of the moment constrained me to do anything other than this legal writing on the pipeline. The pleading was finally done and signed by four lawyers, then I dropped the messenger at nearby post office to mail the pleadings. It was half-hour passed four o’clock. The inbox in my phone remained unopened. *** A tea at nearby Khas at UP Diliman was my order; another text beeped. It reminded me of the previous messages unopened texts. I found five or probably more unread messages. Two messages came from @ another and from @ inviting me to a dinner. I, perfunctorily, replied: “Cge, punta ko.”
It was roughly a month after the May 2010 national and local elections. The elections I did not participate in contests of the partisan politics neither professionally, as lawyer for politicians. There was still election hype at that time since there were still pending special elections mostly in Lanao del Sur. There were still party-lists seats and local position to be contested. Speaking of elections, some of my friends participated in the elections. Some won, some didn’t make it. Later, in the month of July I found myself appearing at the Commission on Election involving the most violent election in the country. I won that case and a Special Election was ordered by COMELEC. I have no good memories in elections especially the May 2010 where I witnessed the most violent elections in the country in Tugaya. There were gun fires that lasted for two hours in the polling precincts and there was one woman casualty. Since I was a witness to this so violent election, I was inevitably entangled myself. I volunteered to defend a candidate, but I only volunteer because that is the only way to annul the fake election that took place during that day.
Of course, I received death threat before I could argue the case before the COMELEC. But I refused to heed it appeared and argued and won the case. *** I decided that I will not have a dinner with my friends but I will attend the dinner anyway. The dinner at home with my little family takes primacy though at times I make some exceptions. Unbeknowingst to me “get-together dinner” would become “dinner-meeting” and it will become more and more frequent. In the succeeding months, “dinner-meeting” will take primacy over “family dinner.” And I will be frequently missing my dinner at home. At home, and I was half of my meal, I receive another text—“San ka na.” then, I finished my remaining food unhurriedly, and left my family. *** At Maginhawa Street, I recalled that the street was wet, there were moderate rains during that day; there were drizzles that night. It was probably the first week or second week of June 2010.
There more than a half-dozen of us in the dinner. I was the only later comer. I was just an ordinary a get-together @Umbulsato. Those first in attendance would later met the next week, then the next month, twice a month. As the ARMM reform became intense it became once a week, twice a week and at times it five consecutive days. *** For the next one and a half year en route to reforming ARMM, my list of priorities was drastically altered. It took primacy over other equally important things in my personal time and space as well as work. It consumed my time. Emotionally, it is also draining. The push for reform is not something that you just scribble on a piece paper or a slogan. Or you write on your Facebook status. In the reform, you put your name, you commit yourself, you put yourself to the scrutiny of the public, you are willing to engage and persuade those who differ your opinion. You make yourself available even though your not available, you make time for it—there was much expansive time devoted it.
But they are all choices, free choices that you make because of the belief that you are doing the right thing. *** The first get-together was not even intended for any purpose such as the ARMM reform but it was the first instance that reconnected us. When we parted ways, there was understanding to see each other again. I didn’t know exactly how it began but three or so weeks thereafter, my good friend @ presented to me a concept paper about ARM (stands for ARMM Reform Movement) I was not paying much attention at that time. But months had passed the attention had brought us to reforming ARMM in full swing. Started as ideas, and with our passion and conviction we started to concretize the ideas to its physical being. The third and last quarters of 2010, I can describe it as a team-building. In the first quarter of 2011, it was consultative, organizing and lobbying. The second quarter was a push for legislation. The third and fourth quarters were in defense of ARMM reform law before the Supreme Court. It was also the intense selection process and which finally came on 7 December 2011.
And on 22 December 2011 just passed 3 o’clock in the after, I became a history in the reform movement at my own instance.
Chapter II It was not a journey, it was a history, and I am a history The reform theme was simple. Synchronize ARMM elections with national and local elections since it is the mandate of the 1987 Constitution. In this premise, we will lobby the Congress to obey the Constitution by legislating law to synchronize. It is the means, legislation to conform to constitution. But the ends was to reform ARMM. I was having a hard time defending this before the Supreme Court, and I know that we have a very slim margin to win the Court’s favor. We cannot highjack the will of the people to vote for their
representative in the ARMM and supplant unelected persons to occupy positions which must be filled only by the will of the people via elections. In 2004, with other youth groups brought question constitutionality of the un-synchronized election in the ARMM election. Four years, thereafter, I drafted again a similar petition with Muslim Legal Assistant Foundation and Anak Mindanao party-list as petitioners. The Supreme Court junked the petitions. The year 2010, it is different. There a law that mandated synchronized election by RA 10153. This time what we filed was Comment-in-Intervention in favor of the law. And this time after a prolonged legal battle, the Supreme Court decided in favor of the law. Finally, the synchronized election was realized, and the reform agenda can be done. *** What started by the texts would be some of the momentous experiences of my life. It brought me to the street again, and it reconnect to old friends, and it was one of my greatest performance as a lawyer when I appeared and argued before the Supreme Court en banc.
Probably, I consumed loads of watermelon in Rals restaurant in Technohub, barrels of coffee. Meetings in wee hours of morning that at times lasted for eight hours. Lobbied at House of Representative, the Senate and the Supreme Court. And then Mendiola. Went to Zamboanga thrice, in Cotabato City and Davao City countless times. Once in Marawi City. And was able to visit Basilan, at last, and swim the pristine water in an islet called Tenusa just off the coast of the Municipality of Sumisip. In the reform movement, there are numerous people who participated and offered and shared themselves. And I am just one among the conglomeration of individuals who want change. I did my part, did it with passion. *** The second week of July 2010, @ and @ and other two companions were having a meeting in Robinson’s Manila. They were filling up resume and applications, and I was actually tempted to make one. I pretended, to be interested as I am still enjoy my work and my little “side-line” on human rights lawyeri
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?